Sue Williams emerged some 25 years ago, presenting canvases that depicted scenes of sexual and physical abuse with a cartoonish hand. Born of personal experience, they cast a critical eye on the all-too-real relationship between male privilege and violence.
Over time, her work grew more abstract as her subject matter deliquesced into evocations of sexual abjection. Fragments of orifices and organs were comically dispersed as overall skeins of color, making literal the equation between ejaculation and painting ascribed to Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock.
Williams’s latest paintings revisit a subject she’s touched upon in recent years: the 9/11 attacks and the War on Terror. Here, sketchy glimpses of the Twin Towers poke out from plumes of pigments burning fireball bright. Also unmistakable is the phallic symbolism of the old WTC buildings, seen in varying stages of tumescence, blowing back and forth like reeds in the winds of history.
Williams elevates the wages of machismo to the geopolitical realm, reminding us that the attacks served as a pretext for our permanent war footing, the CIA’s torture regime and the NSA’s surveillance state. This has become an obvious point by now, one obscured in any case by the paintings’ eye-popping nature. Understandably, Williams wants to pursue controversy while creating objects that tempt fat wallets. That’s just how the art world rolls. But the raw memories surrounding 9/11 never fit comfortably with her treatment of same. She should consider looking elsewhere to have her cake and eat it, too.—Howard Halle